Category Archives: Political commentary

Lords of Western Civilisation

RouenCathedralEvidently Tony Abbott and John Howard feel western civilisation is under threat. Actually they’d be right about that, at least regarding the image of it they seem to hold.

They wanted to set up a big new teaching program at the Australian National University, funded by the Ramsay Centre, even though ANU already has many courses on the topic. As Tony Abbott wrote in Quadrant magazine, the program was to be not so much about western civilisation as in favour it.

Ultimately the ANU withdrew from negotiations because of the unprecedented level of micromanagement demanded by the Ramsay Centre, a level the ANU saw as inconsistent with its core value of academic freedom. This has triggered another fierce round of culture wars.

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A Fabricated Government

[Published 7 Feb at Pearls and Irritations, though with the irritation that ‘lies’ was replaced by ‘untruths’.]

Australian politics is a culture of lies. Australia’s governments are facades erected to obscure the nefarious activities of those who really wield power.

So the pathetic little Turnbull Cabinet is upset because some of its secrets are outed through incompetence. The filing cabinet papers so far reveal some hypocrisy and lies of Government Ministers past and present.

If you want to see some rather more consequential challenges to government secrecy go and see the movie The Post, which is about how in 1971 Daniel Ellsberg and the Washington Post revealed the history of US interference in Vietnam through the 1950s and 60s. The so-called Pentagon Papers revealed that successive US administrations had systematically lied to Congress and the public about their activities and goals in Vietnam.

For decades the US knew it could not win. It continued mainly to try to save face. In the end it suffered the humiliating defeat it feared. Tens of thousands of US young men, hundreds of Australians and many more Vietnamese died for that vain folly.

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Resolving the Growth Dilemma: Quality not Quantity

Endless growth on a finite planet is impossible. Yet endless growth of the economy is the reflexive goal of almost every government in the world. This defines the existential crisis into which humanity is blundering.

Yet even many people who are alert to the problem struggle to prescribe a remedy, or even to give the remedy a name. Various terms float around, like no growth, steady state, degrowth or postgrowth. There are two fundamental problems with these terms: they don’t define what they are talking about and they just keep the focus on growth.

George Lakoff wrote the book called Don’t Think of an Elephant. What did you just do? You thought of an elephant. Don’t think about growth. Oh. You just did. If I want you to think about flowers, I need to talk about flowers. Let’s stop and smell the flowers. Ah, that’s better.

Growth of what, exactly? Steady state what? Well, when the political mainstream says ‘growth of the economy’, it really means ‘growth of the Gross Domestic Product’, the GDP. GDP is the sum of all activities involving money, adjusted to avoid double counting. But what about good activities that don’t involve money, like staying home and loving baby? And is everything involving money, everything that is bought and sold, a good thing?

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The chasm between the society we are offered and the fair go we want

[Posted at Pearls and Irritations, 20 July 17.]

Fair go?There is widely perceived to be a gap between our stumbling political system and the wishes of the Australian people. However those who look a little deeper into our Australian hearts see not just a gap but a yawning chasm.

In a 2016 study by social researcher Richard Eckersley, published in Oxford Development Studies, people were asked which of two possible futures came closer to what they expected, and which of the two they preferred.

  • Scenario one was ‘a fast paced, internationally competitive society, with emphasis on the individual, wealth generation and enjoying the good life’. Three quarters expected a future along these lines.
  • Scenario two was ‘a greener, more stable society, where the emphasis is on cooperation, community and family, more equal distribution of wealth, and greater economic self-sufficiency’. 93% preferred this scenario.”

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Avoiding Terrorism

[Now published on Independent Australia]

The tragic loss of innocent lives to terrorist acts will not stop until we admit to the folly of current policies.

Lost amid the genuine anguish, the outrage, the media frenzy, and the political posturing after each terrorist event in the West is a simple question: “Why are they so angry, these terrorists?” You don’t really have to look far for an answer.

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New eBook: The Rise and Failure of the Radical Right

The Origins of Australia’s Political Disarray

The right-wing ideology of the past 40 years has failed. It was always going to fail, because it is based on nonsense ideas, and because it harms people and the natural world. Australian politics has been dragged far to the right since 1980 because both major parties embraced an agenda promoted by right-wing radicals. Now the radical right’s grip on power is finally slipping. We are poised for a major political re-alignment.

A BetterNature Short Book (14,500 words).

Released 4 May 2017. May the Fourth be with you.

Now available on Amazon.

See more about my books, existing and forthcoming, here.

Desperately Seeking the Fair Go – blog post

[This post introduces my new book. Full text now available as pdf or epub.]

desperatelysmAustralia accomplished an economic miracle in the nineteenth century, rising from subsistence to the richest country in the world. Along with New Zealand, Australia also led the world in political and social innovation, aspiring to provide a fair go for everyone. By 1913 Australia was a distinctive, dynamic and increasingly egalitarian society.

Despite some economic, political and psychological setbacks through the twentieth century, Australia by 1980 was a prosperous and open society still generally pursuing the fair go, notwithstanding some notable gaps.

Australians also had another great accomplishment to our credit: we had peaceably welcomed a great diversity of immigrants who spiced Oz with many new cultural flavours. We grumbled a bit and might not have openly admitted it, but we were a tolerant, talented, innovative, even interesting lot.

Today Australia is a very different place. We are in a lather of fear over moderate challenges that are substantially of our own making. We shrink from big challenges bearing down on us. We are insecure, and increasingly selfish, divided and directionless. We pursue scapegoats, vilifying innocent people and grossly abusing some. We act as though we are incapable, and have to bring in foreigners and their money to run things for us.

Yet we can still be generous and tolerant, and we can still sometimes be the fun-loving larrikins we like to think we are. We have abundant resources, talent, skill and energy, and we speak many of the world’s languages. Why do we make such heavy going of it?

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